WASHINGTON — If Congress can’t reach a budget deal, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will make “dramatic changes” to absorb the loss of billions of dollars from their 2022 plans, the Navy’s top budget officer said Tuesday.
The federal government has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, meaning the previous fiscal 2021 spending legislation, not the updated FY22 budget, is in place. Under a CR, no new programs can begin, and the services can’t increase the quantity they buy from an existing program. The current continuing resolution funds the government through Feb. 18.
Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters in a Jan. 25 call the Navy and Marine Corps are acting as if a proper FY22 budget will be passed — conducting operations at the planned pace, training new sailors and Marines at boot camp, getting contracts negotiated so they can be executed quickly — but also planning for the steep cuts they’d need to make under a full-year continuing resolution.
“We want to not break trust with our families, our sailors, our Marines; we want to maintain that competitive edge for our strategic rivals; and we want to be a good partner to our industrial base. A year-long CR does not do any of those things, so it’s not in our best interest,” Gumbleton said.
The operations and maintenance budget, for example, would be $2.5 billion short of what the sea services planned for FY22, he said.
“We are continuing to spend the money like we have it, because we’ve been here before,” Gumbleton said, noting that 19 of the last 20 fiscal years have started with a continuing resolution but that usually the Pentagon eventually gets a new defense budget.
“If it does turn into a full-year CR, the dramatic impacts would be we would not do maintenance on five submarines and two aircraft carriers, and we would reduce the flying hour accounts to all our pilots, Navy and Marine Corps, by 10[%] or 20% in the last quarter and a half of the fiscal year,” he said.
He said the services would not accept any risk to the forward-deployed forces, but that means units training at home could face a disproportionate impact from what he called “ruthless prioritization” of forward forces.
Asked if a full-year CR could hinder the services’ ability to respond to Russian aggression in Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe, Gumbleton said that would not happen, but spending money on those operations would only further limit what’s available to units stateside.
A lack of money for training and operating at home is bad for proficiency and retention, he added.
Gumbleton said that, of the five submarine maintenance availabilities that would be cut, one would be a $710 million maintenance availability scheduled to take place at General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Connecticut.
EB President Kevin Graney said in a Jan. 24 company update that attack submarine Hartford arrived at the Groton yard in June for a “smart start” ahead of a planned engineered overhaul of the submarine. This overhaul period — which appears to be what Gumbleton was referring to — is helping Electric Boat hire the new employees it needs for the Columbia ballistic missile submarine program and give them something to start working on now, while the first Columbia sub is still in the early stages of construction and not ready yet for employees who would work at later stages of the assembly line. Graney has previously described the submarine repair work as a risk-reduction measure for the Columbia program — and now one that could be yanked away in a full-year CR.
A full-year CR would hamper the Columbia program in other ways, Gumbleton said, with the shipbuilding program that’s been long designated the Navy’s top acquisition priority receiving about half a billion less than it needs in FY22. The Columbia program received $4.58 billion in funding in FY21, a figure bumped up to $5.06 billion in the Navy’s request and to $5.2 billion in the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act.
Gumbleton said no sector in the industrial base would be shielded from the effects of a full-year CR.
In shipbuilding, the Navy would not be able to buy its second Constellation-class frigate, a T-AGOS ocean surveillance ship, a John Lewis-class oiler, two Ship to Shore Connectors and three used sealift ships as it had planned for the year.
In aviation, the Navy and Marines wouldn’t be able to increase their Joint Strike Fighter buy by seven aircraft as planned or buy six MQ-9 Predator drones for the Marines to start experimenting with.
And weapons meant to make ships more lethal or add range to their arsenal — including things like the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Joint Air-to-Ground Missile, Evolved SeaSparrow Missile and Naval Strike Missile — wouldn’t see the increased procurement quantity the department wanted.
He did not provide a dollar amount associated with the full-year CR’s impact to acquisition, but he said 32 new programs would not be allowed to start — 10 acquisition programs, 10 research and development programs and 12 military construction programs — in addition to countless ones meant to increase in quantity in FY 22.
“We’re in an interesting time: We’re waiting on a ‘22 topline and an enacted budget, and we’re waiting to submit our ‘23 plans,” he said. “The impact for future years is, the industrial base counts on this to make investments in their own workforce, investments in their own infrastructure, and so when we change the plan, that does impact them, and it will impact future program years.”
The sea services would also be $1.5 billion short when it comes to payroll, leading to three drastic levers the department would have to pull to make the budget work.
Complicating the matter, the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act that was passed into law gives servicemembers a 2.7% pay raise, which Gumbleton said they’re grateful for — but it exacerbates the payroll shortfall under a full-year CR.
The Navy alone had planned to bring in 31,000 new sailors in FY22, but if it can’t make payroll, that would be reduced by 23,000 accessions — meaning just 8,000 new sailors to support what’s supposed to be a growing fleet.
“Let that sink in for a moment: as an armed force, that we’re going to actually not bring in over 60% of our planned [accessions]. How are we supposed to maintain pace with China and the threats that we face? How do we maintain the Navy and Marine Corps and keep it going? That’s just a dramatic and significant factor, but that alone would not actually pay the bill,” he said of the cut to accessions.
Additionally, the services would have to cancel reenlistment bonuses as well as cancel about 37,000 permanent change of station moves. That means sailors or Marines stationed internationally who had expected to come back home to the U.S. would have to wait another year, for example, Gumbleton said.
One area he said the Navy would protect, though, is surface ship maintenance. The Navy had seen very low on-time delivery rates of surface ships from private repair yards as recently as 2018, but the service has since launched several data-driven efforts to improve ship repair costs and quality and get ready ships back into the fight faster. Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener and others in the surface ship community have said an important lesson from these efforts is that contracts for private ship repair periods should be awarded at least 120 days before the ship arrives at the yard, so the industrial base has time to get the right people and parts in place to do the work.
Gumbleton said the Navy was pleased with the improvements and wants to protect the recovering ship repair activity from a full-year CR.
“We like what we’re seeing: A-minus-120, let’s get those contracts, let’s get those private yards the ability to plan so they can execute better. And so when we looked at, hey, how would you mitigate this dramatic reduction in our [operations and maintenance] appropriation, again, the $2.5 billion I mentioned, we were stuck between the choices. And so that’s why we’re electing to go after the private sector submarine maintenance and the carrier maintenance, in an attempt to keep the private shipyards in our surface fleet on timeline.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.